Highland BOE candidates focus on school safety, improving community relations

Highland voters on May 15 will be asked to approve three candidates on the ballot running to fill three open seats on the Highland Central School District Board of Education. And while the candidates are running unopposed, and thus assured of a seat at the table, we feel it’s still important to let the community know where the elected trustees will stand on district priorities and what they feel are the greatest challenges the district currently faces.

Two candidates are incumbents: Michael Bakatsias is running for his third three-year term and Ed Meisel pursuing his second. Newcomer Camille Adoma will bring a fresh viewpoint to the Highland board along with her experience as a building administrator in another school district. The terms will begin July 1 and expire June 30, 2021.

Also up for the vote will be a proposed 2018-19 operating budget of $45,280,769. A separate bus proposition seeking $588,000 to replace vehicles in the district’s aging fleet is also on the ballot along with a proposition to fund an $8 million capital improvement project.

Advertisement

Camille Adoma

Camille Adoma is seeking both her first term on the Highland Central School District Board of Education and her first elected position. She is a South Carolina native who moved to Highland in 2006 after serving as an officer in the U.S. Navy. Adoma holds an undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill along with graduate degrees from City College of New York and SUNY New Paltz. She is currently employed as a middle school assistant principal in the Hyde Park Central School District. She is married and has two sons who both attend school in the Highland district.

Why do you want to be a member of the Highland School Board?

I want Highland CSD graduates to be competitive with their peers locally and abroad. This is achieved by providing the necessary programs and resources for students in Highland to be successful in the classroom, in fine arts and on the athletic field. I have had a history of public service whether it has been serving my country or in working in neighboring districts as an educator. I am looking forward to working with the board and district leadership to make a difference in my own community.

What skills or experience do you possess that qualify you for the position?

I proudly served for five years as a naval officer, where I was a team player, a decision-maker and gained invaluable leadership experience. I have continued to expand those skills as I finish my fourth year as an assistant principal. During my twelve years as an educator, I have experienced the inner workings of three different school districts. I am knowledgeable about the programs and resources that are being provided to students in other districts. Additionally, I am familiar with current trends in instruction along with the challenges facing public education.

What do you believe are the main challenges facing the Highland district at this time?

Unfortunately, in any school district there are costs associated when you expand existing programs, improve facilities and add new programs. For Highland CSD, the challenge exists in making these changes on the budget of a small school district without overburdening the taxpayers. This will require the board and district leadership to be innovative in budget development and make decisions based on long-term efficiency rather than short-term gain. Facilitating opportunities to educate residents and allowing them to voice their concerns will be of equal importance in overcoming this obstacle.

What will your priorities be as a trustee?

When joining any organization, it is important to understand the culture. My first priority is to start working on establishing quality relationships with the board members, staff and community. I plan to take advantage of the wealth of expertise shared by the current board members to help me transition into this new role and expand my knowledge of the district.

Mike Bakatsias

Michael Bakatsias is running for his third three-year term on the Highland Central School District Board of Education. A lifelong area resident raised in Marlboro, Bakatsias has lived in Highland since 1996. His three sons, ages 9, 13 and 14, are students in the Highland district and he is employed as an assistant superintendent in the Marlboro Central School District.

Why do you want to retain your seat on the Highland School Board?

Next year, I will have a child in each building, therefore it interests me a great deal how each school in the Highland Central School District is preparing each child to be college- and career-ready.

What skills or experience do you possess that qualify you to continue as a trustee?

As I run for my third term, I believe I have developed some skills that contribute to good decisions being made at the administrative level. First is to be fair and represent all students in our deliberations and discussions. The second is respect; respect for the rights of students and parents, respect for those working in our schools and what they do well every day and respect for our community outside the school environment.

What do you believe are the main challenges facing the Highland district at this time?

The first is to continue assisting our newly appointed superintendent of schools in his mission to improve all schools and district services. Tom Bongiovi was an excellent candidate and I am happy to be working with him.

The second challenge is to improve some administrative oversight in various areas. While I am not going to be specific in this interview, I believe that I have questioned the handling of certain matters and asked, “Is that how a $45 million operation would handle that situation?” Often I would hear, “No, we can do better.” So the second challenge is increasing supervision in various areas regarding the academics, extracurricular activities and athletics. While Highland has had some success, I believe we have not achieved our true potential, so refocusing on our programs and services is very important to me.

The third item is specific. We simply need more electives at our high school to compete with other high schools in the area. I will say that what our high school does offer is done very well, and most academic classes are very competitive with regard to outcomes as compared to other Ulster County schools, but other high schools offer more in electives such as business and computer courses, STEM coursework and various other elective areas. We can do better for our students and I would like to participate in conversations that help achieve additional opportunities for high school students.

As a trustee, what will your priorities be?

The priorities for me are to improve quality across the continuum of services: academic, extracurricular and athletics. This would include increased supervision at all levels and improved electives at the high school. With regard to capital plant and equipment, I will continue listening to our financial advisors to leverage what we have versus what we need. We will have another $8 million bond up for approval this May. It is a recommended action from our financial advisors since we are retiring older debt, and this will have a low net effect on the taxpayer, if any. Lastly, to assist in closing out our current capital project, which is in its final phase this year. There was some very good infrastructure work done in this project and I would like to see it closed out on time and within budget, and so far, that is on target.

Ed Meisel

Edward Meisel is running for his second three-year term on the Highland Board of Education. He is a freelance writer and former educator in the Highland Central School District. He is married to AnnMarie Meisel, who has taught English literature at Highland High School for more than two decades. The couple have two children.

Why are you interested in retaining your seat on the Highland School Board?

I have been a resident of Highland for more than 25 years, and my wife, AnnMarie, was born and raised here in Highland. We have two sons who are currently students in the district. As a family, we believe strongly in being active members of the community in which we live, especially through service and volunteerism. My experience these past three years as a member of the Highland School Board has been a generally positive one and I am proud of what efforts the board has made in that time. There is a lot of positive work being done at the schools and with the community as a whole, and I am eager to continue to be a part of that movement forward.

What skills or experience do you possess that qualify you to continue as a trustee?

My experience and education as a writer and freelance journalist have contributed to my skills as an effective communicator with an analytical mindset. I worked for several years as an educator for the Highland Central School District until our son was born extremely premature with cerebral palsy and subsequently required significant aid at home. Although I reluctantly resigned my position to take care of his special needs, I remain proud of the students whose lives I was able to touch and grateful to the families who gave me the opportunity to do so. It has been exciting these past three years to see again the talented and extraordinary students being raised by the families of Highland and to help and support in some small way their development.

Advertisement

What do you believe are the main challenges facing the Highland district at this time?

Ultimately finances remain the greatest challenge to the district. As I have said many times before, the people of the Highland School District are hardworking and extremely generous. Likewise, there is tremendous talent and energy here in the schools. Unfortunately, the current tax method for funding school districts in New York State has the effect of often creating an adversarial relationship between taxpayers and their schools. It is our responsibility as a community, however, to make certain our schools are safe in all ways and that our children are prepared to become ambitious and productive members of a modern society. It is the district’s duty to respect each and every dollar of the people’s tax funds and to ensure that they are used responsibly and with discretion.

As a trustee, what will your priorities be?

My top priority will be the safety of the students and employees of the Highland Central School District. In order to be a positive and productive environment, the schools must remain safe ones. We have wonderful safety programs in place but must further implement plans that have already been designed, and must continue to pressure the state to aid us financially in that endeavor.

Second, I believe strongly that our students need to be provided a greater variety of educational opportunities. The majority of job opportunities in the foreseeable future involve science and technology, but more specifically reside in the area of computer programming. Highland has made wonderful strides in its use of technology, but now we must consider offering our students the opportunity to learn computer programming, as it has very much become the functioning language of our modern society.

Finally, I would continue to advocate for greater community and school interactions. The residents of Highland deserve to see all the good work being done by their tax dollars. Groups such as the Highland Rotary and the student-run branch called “Interact” have developed an amazing relationship that benefits the entire community through their generous acts of volunteerism. I would like to see more such relationships develop between the schools and our community and more ways of opening up district resources to the benefit of all our community members.